Eighteenth Amendment

Author:Dennis J. Mahoney

Page 862

The Eighteenth Amendment was framed and adopted to give a peacetime constitutional basis to the national PROHIBITION of alcoholic beverages, originally imposed as a war measure. Congress proposed the amendment in December 1917, and ratification was completed thirteen months later. Congress adopted the National Prohibition Act (VOLSTEAD ACT) to provide a mechanism for enforcement and penalties for violation of the prohibition.

The prohibition amendment provided the occasion for several controversies about the character and extent of the amending power. In Ohio, for example, the voters, by REFERENDUM, attempted to rescind their legislature's ratification of the amendment; but the Supreme Court held that procedure unconstitutional in Hawke v. Smith (1920). The Court, in the National Prohibition Cases (1920), rejected a number of arguments that the amendment was itself unconstitutional because of purported inherent limitations on the AMENDING POWER, including the contention that ordinary legislation cannot be made part of the Constitution and the assertion that the Constitution cannot be amended so as to diminish the residual SOVEREIGNTY of the states. In the same case the Court held that the requirement of a two-thirds vote in each house to propose amendments was met by the vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting and that amendments automatically become part of the Constitution when ratified by three-fourths of the states, whether or not promulgated by Congress or the secretary of state. In United States v....

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